I remember the nativities at school, year after year, yearning to be Mary. It’s what I thought about all year. To be fair, I went to a catholic primary school where the head teacher was a nun so you know, there was a lot of bible talk all year round.
But I really wanted to be Mary. I imagined myself doing the slow walk alongside the donkey and Joseph with a tea towel on his head. The pillow up my dress looking holy and ready to birth the baby Jesus.
I knew blue was a good colour on me, and they’re in Bethlehem!! I’m the right colour surely!!!
Yet year after year, I was never Mary. And year after year I was devastated. I remember crying to the teacher one year when yet another blonde, pale girl was chosen to be the Virgin Queen. And I’ll never forget the words “girls like you will never be Mary”
My heart broke that day, I sat on the tiny toilet behind the stall door that ironically was half mast like a barn door and wept. I went home that night and prayed that God would make my skin lighter and my hair blonde.
Because even in those early years, I learnt that girls like me whose skin is brown and hair is black aren’t beautiful queens who get to have the pillow baby Jesus.
Worry not, I have since learnt that I’m amazing and I feel no shame at all of my Indian Mizo heritage. Dudes, I celebrate what a queen I am all the time!
One year i did get to play an elephant tamer. But the outfit had these ridiculous see through harreem pants and you could see my knickers and everyone laughed at me. It wasn’t my finest moment and I cried because no one ever laughed at Mary.
Nish Kumar (NOT Patel!) wrote recently about unconscious bias after a newspaper called him Nish Pateland it made me think about the times when bias has affected my life.
I talked to friends recently about how I’m “just white enough” to get to hear everyday racism. Not the full blown racists who hate anyone who isn’t white but those friendly every day racists who would never accept it about themselves because they have a friend who is black.
A woman I stood next to at a craft fair all day before at the end she said she would have a “Chinky” that night. The person who says they’re going to the “paki shop”. The ones who tell me that it’s not fair how much the “coloureds” and “foreigns” get the same benefits as the “real British people” aka white people.
It happens all the time. And every time it reminds me of being told as an eager 6 year old that girls like me never get to play Mary.
Your words matter. Think before you speak.